The connection between the land, its rivers and all of us

I was scrolling through a social media feed the other day when I saw a map that blew me away.

I’m a bit of a map geek, so I clicked the graphic to give it a closer look. It was posted by The Nature Conservancy.


What it shows are the various regions that make up the Mississippi River watershed. We all know that the Mississippi is huge, one of the world’s great rivers. And yes, a lot of us know that there are a number of big rivers that feed into it. But seeing it on a map like this is a great visual that illustrates how much of our country is connected by this amazing river system. From New York to the east, Montana and Idaho to the west, Canada to the north and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico via Louisiana to the south. Thirty-one states in the U.S. and two Canadian provinces are part of this watershed.

Even at great distances, we are all connected.

I live within a few hundred yards from the banks of the Arkansas River. The river begins in the heart of the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, getting its start atop mountains like this one, Mount Shavano, just outside of Poncha Springs (the actual headwaters are farther north, more toward Leadville, but I digress)

The summit of Mount Shavano, Colorado.

The summit of Mount Shavano, Colorado.

From snowmelt and rain runoff at these heights, the river cuts through valleys and gorges through Colorado before beginning its slower, wider meanderings through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before emptying its contents into the Mississippi River far to the east.

Here’s what the river looks like about five miles south of me right now.

The Arkansas River, as seen from its west bank in Tulsa.

The Arkansas River, as seen from its west bank in Tulsa.

Hard to imagine that the snows atop that 14,000-foot peak in the first photo will eventually roll on by in my hometown hundreds of miles away. But that’s exactly what happens, more or less.

This is a story told over a huge swath of the country. Along with the Arkansas, the Missouri, Red, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, fed from mountain streams in the Rockies and the Appalachians, make up this sizable network of waterways. Snowmelt from the north woods of Minnesota finds its way to the bayous outside New Orleans.

If there is a point to be made, it’s that the things we do locally don’t stop at our doorstep. Decisions made in Montana and Indiana can have consequences in Missouri and Louisiana. Aside from the impressive scale the watershed represents, there is the realization that what we do upstream affects a lot of people downstream.

Anyway, just some food for thought. If you want to learn more about the America’s Watershed Initiative, click this link.

Bob Doucette

Bike commuting revisited: Six things to know


I’m a few months into this whole bike commuting thing. Thus far, I’ve done all the things I’m supposed to do — get a reflector vest, lights for the bike, and so forth. It seems to be going decently.

Like I said before, I’m doing this out of necessity. I’m sure it would be really admirable if I was all about saving the planet, or finding yet another way to squeeze in even more fitness and outdoors stuff in my life. No need to have me fitted with a cape and shirt with a big “S” on it, though. I’m in it because I don’t want to pay for downtown parking, which would run me anywhere from $400 to $1,200 a year, depending on how I managed it.

But has it been worth it? I’d say yes and no. But mostly yes. The best way to explain it is to go over what I’ve learned. So if you’re thinking about a bike commute, here are my observations…

Be prepared to spend some money to save some money. This assumes you’re buying a bike on the cheap like me. You can spend hundreds of even thousands of dollars on bikes — something I wasn’t prepared to do. I spent $150 on mine. But while it was in good shape, it still needed some tweaks to get it road worthy. I also had to buy all that gear I mentioned earlier, plus a few other things. All told, I think I spent as much or more on bicycle gear as I did on the actual bike. And there is still more work that can be done. Budget accordingly.

The logistics of bike commuting can be a real pain in the butt. It usually means packing a backpack with my food, my work clothes, and all of the other stuff I’ll need for the day. There is also getting the gym clothes I wear during the ride. Putting all this stuff together — packaged and folded so it will fit in the pack — takes about 30 minutes. That’s about 25 more minutes than how it used to be when I was in walking distance from my office, and maybe 20 minutes more if I were driving. Logistically speaking, walking and driving are easier. Biking takes more prep work, and it can be annoying after awhile.

There will be days when you don’t want to physically exert yourself to get to your job. The uphills get old. The downhills are easy — though not quite as easy as plopping your duff in the driver’s seat, turning on some tunes and motoring your way to the office. The physical commitment involved with driving is pretty much nil, and nil is what I feel like some days.

Check with your office or job site about their policy on where you can stow your bike. It would be a real bummer to gear up for bike commuting only to be told you had to lock up your bike somewhere else for the day, out of sight, and left to the elements — and opportunistic thieves.

Be prepared to see an immediate benefit to your legs. Even a short daily commute is going to work your legs more than other forms of commuting. The muscle underneath will be a little firmer, the quadriceps a little better defined, and so forth. Pumping those pedals to get to work is really a rad form of multitasking — arriving on time to work while getting a mini workout.

Enjoy the savings that do come. Because they will. Gas is cheap right now, but not using gas is cheaper. In fact, all the costs associated with using your car every day go down when you leave the car in the garage or driveway most of the week. I usually drive two or three times a week, max. That’s it. I gas up my car maybe once a month, and normally only half way. Cycling also means fewer oil changes, less tire wear and so forth.

So there you have it. My first post on this subject touched on some other things, so check out that link and see if this is something you might want to do.


Bob Doucette

Waterlogged: When it’s time to give the trails a break

My favorite place to run, but maybe now is not the best time to be there.

My favorite place to run, but maybe now is not the best time to be there.

This is the time of year when I would like to transition my long runs to the trails. I’ve got two trail races I’m eyeing over the next couple of months, and it makes sense to put those big miles on the dirt tracks of the woods.

But there is a problem. As it turns out, 2015 was the wettest year in Oklahoma history, capped off by an extraordinarily heavy weekend of rain over the Christmas holiday. Adding to that was some rain and snow over the past couple of days.

My local trail running haunt, the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, is saturated. The last time I ran there, only the highest trail atop a ridge crest was halfway dry. Everything else was anything from muddy to flooded.

Mud and standing water is a de facto badge of pride for trail runners. Trail running is tougher than road running, mostly because the paths trail runners take don’t avoid elevation gains, traverse sketchy terrain and force runners to tackle the elements on their terms. Part of that includes mud.

I’m OK with that. Especially when it comes to races, rotten route conditions add a little spice to the event.

But there comes a time when you have to think bigger. The places where I run are pretty busy, and not just with runners. Cyclists, hikers and other trail users frequent my local trails by the hundreds every day, at a minimum. All that use has an impact on trails under the best of conditions. Add enough rain to the mix and trail erosion and degradation is greatly accelerated.

So when Saturday’s programmed long run came up, I stayed off the dirt and hit the pavement.

I know one person won’t cause much damage. Neither will 10. But hundreds will when the trails are in such poor condition, as they are now. And with so much rain behind us, it may be a bit before they dry out to the point where erosion and other damage is slowed.

As a trail runner, I care about the places I run. I care enough to get active in protecting the places those trails cross. I want to make sure the trail system is cleaned of trash, protected from urbanization and maintained in a sustainable way. I’ve even learned a little bit about trail restoration along the way.

But I also know that part of protecting those trails can be more passive. In their current state, my presence will likely add to deeper ruts and other associated harm that comes from my weight digging into the mud via my feet.

It’s also key to understand how many runners, hikers and even some cyclists react when confronted with a big pool of water in middle of the trail. Most try to sidestep it, to avoid getting their feet wet and to preserve those pristine kicks from the dingy stains of muddy water. Never mind that the edges of the trail are also likely to be very muddy, and that going around mud puddles causes even more damage, which is why we are told to run through the middle of the mess in the first place. But human nature is what it is.

So while I take a little pride in coming home from a trail run with mud splattered all over me, I also understand that maybe now it’s a little too muddy, a little too wet, and a bit too fragile for me. Not everyone will share this conviction, and I understand that. But it is something we should consider.

Maybe next weekend it will be different. But for now, I’ll grudgingly pound pavement and give my trails a break.

Bob Doucette

Six things I learned about being a bike commuter

Me and my new ride.

Me and my new ride.

So I got myself a bike. This is interesting, because I haven’t been a bike person since I was, oh, 14 years old.

Beyond that, there have been various cycling experiments. I remember two ill-fated attempts at mountain biking — chugging my way up a monster hill, cursing my short-of-breath self the whole way on one occasion. On another, trying to follow two seasoned mountain bikers on some up-and-down horse trails at Roman Nose State Park in western Oklahoma. They were riding Canondales, I was suffering on some Wal-Mart contraption with a seat that wouldn’t stay in place.

There also was the day I locked myself out of my house and car and had to ride my cheap-o bike a few miles to church. And three years ago, I hopped on a bike that was really nice but not fitted for me and cruised some bike trails for about 14 miles.

That last adventure was decent, though there is something to be said for having full range of motion when you’re choosing your ride. Anyway, I bring this up because this is the next chapter in my urban living thing.

You might remember a few weeks ago where I wrote about being priced out of a walkable neighborhood in downtown Tulsa. It really spoiled me to be able to walk just about anywhere I needed to go, but the rising cost of rent, parking and everything else shoved me out the door.

Now I’m in a bigger, cheaper place. That’s the good news. The bad: It costs money to park your car anywhere near my gym and my job. I could rent a space in a parking garage for $100 a month, or feed meters for about $2 a day (parking is free downtown after business hours — for now).

That’s $400 to $1,200 a year, just to park. None of this will do. I moved out of my old place to save money, and one way to do that is to not pay for parking. Fortunately, I am within biking distance.

I’d like to tell you that I bike to work because I want to save the planet. No greenhouse gases coming out of that bike, you know. Or that I do it for the exercise. Or perhaps that I’m so super-committed to human-powered transport that I’m taking a one-man stand on my ride. All of these are worthy goals. But no. I am not so noble.

I’m doing it for the money, or rather, my desire to spend less of it.

The act of cycling is free, even if equipping myself for it is not. Once those up-front costs are out of the way, it costs nothing to pedal or park. In a couple of months, I will have saved as much money on not paying for parking as I have in buying the bike and the assorted gear that comes with it.

I’ve learned some things in this process. So I give you this list of what I’ve gleaned since I turned into a bike commuter…

You don’t have to spend wads of money on a bike. I went on Facebook and asked, “Anyone got a bike they want to sell?” I ended up getting two offers I couldn’t refuse, spending $225 on both. One I’ll use on the commute, the other for exercise on the bike paths. Sure beats laying down several hundred — or thousand — bucks on a new ride.

You will need to buy some stuff, if you don’t have it already. A helmet, bike lock, reflector vest (if you ride home at night), lights, and, if your bike is old, a tune-up. So there are up-front costs to doing the bike thing if you’re not a cyclist. I was not, so in lieu of parking fees, I bought bike stuff.

You will need to plan more of your day ahead of time. It was easy when I walked to work. Even in a car, it’s simple. Grab your stuff and go, right? Not so on a bike. Anything you want to take with you (food, work attire, etc.) needs to be carried, by you, on your bike. So for me, that means stuffing a backpack with work clothes, a shaving kit, my lunch and anything else I need to take with me (having a place to shower before going into work is a big plus). I travel to the gym first, work out, shower, then go the last block to my office. Sounds simple, but these logistics take time that walking and driving commuters don’t have to fret. And oh, the weather. The elements might make your ride unpleasant, especially if you’re not ready.

You will need to be more careful. It’s a good idea to pick a route that doesn’t just get you to the job, but one that is the safest. There are some streets I avoid altogether, mostly because I don’t trust drivers. Most people behind the wheel of a car are not paying attention to pedestrians, cyclists, or even other drivers. Even with all the information out there about the dangers of texting and driving, PEOPLE STILL TEXT AND DRIVE. So keep that in mind when you hop on the saddle.

You will get an exercise benefit, even if the commute is short. I ran 24 miles last week, biked 8. That’s a total of 32 human-powered miles. In one week, that might not make a difference. But over a year? It will, and that’s a good thing.

Eventually, you’ll save money. Lots of it. I mentioned the parking fees I won’t have to pay. Let’s not forget about all the gasoline you won’t be burning, the oil changes that won’t be needed, the wear-and-tear on the car that won’t happen, and everything else that comes with exclusively relying on a car for your commute. I still have a car, but I only drive a couple times a week, and for short distances. I know what it’s like to have long commutes — I used to spend $250 a month just on gasoline. The extra effort will be worth the cash not spent on driving.

I know this won’t be possible for a lot of people. Some folks don’t live close enough to work to get there by bike, and moving closer to work isn’t an option. But if it is an option, maybe it’s time to take a look at parking the car — at home — and relying more on your own two legs rather than an internal combustion engine to get you from Point A to Point B.

Got any bike commuter tips? Or stories? Share ’em in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Getting priced out of the walkable life

A 1920s-era high rise, the 320 South Boston Building, reflected on a more modern glass tower. The contrast of old-style art deco and modern architecture is beautiful.

A 1920s-era high rise, the 320 South Boston Building, reflected on a more modern glass tower. The contrast of old-style art deco and modern architecture in downtown Tulsa is beautiful.

Imagine this little scene:

You’re standing at the corner of a moderately busy street. People are all around, walking or biking to wherever it is they need to go that day, sunglasses on, phones in hand, and otherwise preoccupied while darting from one place to the next. Bike couriers zip by, carrying packages or fast-food deliveries. There are a couple of beggars roaming around, but they’re pretty harmless.

In any direction, you’re within a 10-minute walk from work, your favorite restaurants, a performing arts center and a convenience store. Also within a few hundred feet from your doorstep are destinations like your gym, neighborhood bars, pizza joints and all sorts of street-level businesses selling anything from jewelry to photocopies.

Once the work day ends,things quiet down, but life doesn’t stop entirely. Many of the buildings that once housed offices have been converted into apartments, evidence of which is seen by the mix of dog walkers mingling with kids skateboarding emptied sidewalks and lovers taking photographs by a colorfully lit fountain or a rustic brick wall.

Looming overhead are office towers: some modern, some boasting 1920s and 1930s-era Art Deco stone fixtures that are distinct to my home city.

This is my neighborhood, or it least it was. I moved here more than four years ago, taking a new job and a radically new tack toward how my daily life would look, snagging a reasonably priced apartment tucked away under the shadows of nearby high-rises.

For more than 15 years, I joined tens of millions of you who hop into metal boxes on wheels and while away hours every week to go to work, burning time and gas while fighting increasingly crowded highways and decreasingly patient fellow travelers. It was an expensive endeavor that went anywhere from 70 to 100 miles a day, depending on which job I had at the time.

In my new home, things were different. I took advantage of a new trend here in Midwest, one in which developers turned empty spaces in downtown districts into living quarters. My 90-mile-a-day driving habit turned into a two-minute walking commute.

I learned more about Tulsa when I moved downtown. You get to know your community so much better on foot than you do behind the wheel. All those places you breeze by while driving are much more vibrant when you stroll by, unencumbered by the barrier of metal, glass and rubber. Walking or running, this fit into what I hoped life would become — more active, more outdoors, more connected. I grew to love it.

And so did a lot of other people. So much so that there are 13 other downtown residential projects underway right now, with almost every existing apartment in downtown Tulsa occupied, and a year-long waiting list for some of the more sought-after addresses.

Property owners, being the savvy entrepreneurs that they are, see the potential for making profits. One area where I run by often, called East Village, has a number of apartments and townhouses going up. Those townhouses have a starting price of $875,000. We’re not talking Denver, Chicago or even Houston here. This is Tulsa, of all places.

I have a hard time believing that someone would pay that much for a house here, but I should have also realized that someone smarter than me sees something I don’t. And I should also have seen what signs like this would mean for me.

All these people seeking what I sought — a walkable neighborhood, surrounded by all the good stuff to which suburbanites have to drive — would do what I did. They’d downsize, leave the ‘burbs and head to the city’s urban heart.

I’m a middle class guy. Not rich, not poor. A few bills, but nothing big. No extravagant habits and no car payments. But like most folks, I live paycheck to paycheck while putting back a a few dollars here and there. Saving some money on driving far less (I drive maybe once or twice a week) was one of the appeals to living here, mostly because I used to drop $250 or more on fuel every month. There were added costs — monthly parking fees, for example — but for awhile, it was a wash. Having 90 minutes of my life back was worth it.

But then it happened. And by it, I mean capitalism. Supply and demand. More people wanted to live here than could be housed. You know how this story ends.

In this case, it concludes with rent hikes (four in a year) and increased parking fees, as well as a few other ways that we all get nickel-and-dimed to death. With half a month’s salary disappearing into that cozy 650-square-foot pad on the 10th floor, it was time to go.

I won’t lie, it was sad. I came downtown to live in a place that had been, residentially speaking, forsaken for decades. White flight and the boom of the suburbs had robbed downtown areas across the country of people, and reclaiming that became a trendy, and in my mind, positive thing to do. A lot of us loved the idea of fleeing the sameness of the suburbs and opting out of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses lifestyle that permeates the white-picket world. We wanted to own less stuff and live a little more. Walk more, and burn fewer dinosaur bones.

I should have known a lot of us would eventually get priced out. It would be a wicked irony if people like me, hoping to save a buck by being able to walk to work, would get beaten back into suburbia by high rents and an arsenal of other rising costs.

Fortunately, the new home is about a mile from the job. I could walk it if I chose, or bike it. So I won’t get sucked into the suburban maw just yet.

But I hope that the dream of living in a walkable community here in the heartland isn’t dead for people like me. I don’t begrudge the well-heeled for wanting to live where I lived. It’s a healthy, interesting an engaging way to do life. But if that life is reserved for the higher levels of the middle class and up, it would certainly feel like a loss.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Mall developer unveils its plans, and what you can do about it

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they're at risk.

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they’re at risk.

It’s been a little while since I’ve touched on the developments surrounding a proposed outlet mall at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Quite a bit has happened since then.

First, a few preliminaries for those of you unfamiliar with Turkey Mountain…

Turley Mountain is an urban wilderness area in southwest Tulsa, intentionally left as wild as possible and undeveloped, with the exception of a system of dirt trails and minimal signage. It’s become a local haven for hikers, cyclists, runners, families and equestrians, and it’s a true asset to the city.

Turkey Mountain is a conglomerate of properties. The city’s River Parks Authority operates the eastern part of Turkey Mountain, while the western section is privately owned by an assortment of property owners. Established trails run throughout the west side, including some which lead to the Westside YMCA. One piece of property is owned by a landowner who is seeking to sell it to Simon Properties, a huge mall development company that wants to build an outlet mall there. Construction of such a mall – and the infrastructure expansion that would come with it – would disturb or destroy wildlife habitat, eat some of those trails, and could have other negative impacts on the watershed in the Turkey Mountain area.

Needless to say, a lot of us are opposed to this proposal and would like to see the outlet mall built somewhere else. But Simon is intent on going through with its plans. On to the updates…

Simon unveiled its plans

On Friday, Simon Properties unveiled its plans for its proposed mall at Turkey Mountain. They’re dubbing it “Tulsa Premium Outlets,” boasting that it will have 80 stores and bring 800 jobs to the area, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain's west side.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain’s west side.

The map of the proposal shows what Simon calls an open air “village” type format, surrounded by a large parking lot. I didn’t see anything on the plans to indicate a buffer between the lot and the rest of Turkey Mountain, aside from what I guess is the thin strips of green along the fringes; all I can assume is that the mall will be separated from the rest of the area by a fence, a wall, or something like that. I could be wrong about that. Maybe Simon has plans to mitigate the encroachment this mall would have on the rest of Turkey Mountain. If so, a bunch of us would like to hear it.

Simon has competition

Friday’s press conference was the third of three from outlet mall developers this fall. Two other competitors – the Cherokee Nation and Horizon Properties earlier showcased plans for upscale outlet malls on the east side of the Tulsa metro area.

The Cherokees want to build a huge outlet mall adjacent to their golf course and casino complex in Catoosa, a small town just northeast of Tulsa. The city of Tulsa would rather have something inside Tulsa’s city limits as to collect sales tax dollars. So the money angle is big. But the Cherokees have the land, the money and the existing attractions to make it work.

Horizon’s proposal is on Tulsa’s east side and within the city limits. But for whatever reason, the city seems to like Simon’s proposal better.

In any case, there is agreement that only one of these proposals is going to actually turn into reality. All three are competing to sign up the retailers needed to be viable. So the race is on.

Money seems to trump the grand plan

Interestingly, the city’s long-term plan for Turkey Mountain does not include retail development.

Over the years, planners and advisory groups – working in conjunction with city officials and a regional municipal planning group, the Indian Nations Council of Governments –  had formed an opinion and a plan for the entire Arkansas River corridor as it runs through Tulsa, including Turkey Mountain, which is on the river’s west bank.

Not only does the plan not say anything about plopping large retail developments around Turkey Mountain, it actually advocates expanding the wilderness area.

According to INCOG’s Arkansas River corridor master plan:

“Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area occupies one of the most prominent locations along the river corridor and represents a unique opportunity for substantial urban wilderness in close proximity to the heart of metropolitan Tulsa. The park should be expanded to the extent possible through the acquisition of adjacent undeveloped property and preserved in perpetuity as an urban wilderness/open space area, Development within the park should be limited to uses complementary to this great natural resource, such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” (emphasis mine)

And here we are now, with a huge corporation waving dollar bills in people’s faces, and the city seems to be forgetting what planners, through a lot of thought and study, decided what was best for the area.

So some points…

Tulsa Premium Outlets isn’t just near the Turkey Mountain area referenced above. It would be inside of it. While the land on which it would be built is privately owned, it is still part of the larger area the master plan deemed needed for the preservation of wild land “in perpetuity.”

City leaders, in considering Simon’s proposal, need to be asking how the mall fits into the master plan, and come to the correct conclusion that it doesn’t. The INCOG plan said anything developed in that area should somehow promote or complement activities “such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” How exactly does a shopping center do that? The answer is simple. It doesn’t.

The city needs to think regionally, and realize that there are other viable proposals that can fill the outlet market. The Tulsa Regional Chamber has made a big point of not just promoting economic activity inside Tulsa’s city limits, but to think regionally. So on that front, the Cherokees’ plan makes sense. It’s a natural spot for development and wouldn’t consume any wild land. And if the city and business interests are dead set on having an outlet mall inside the city limits, Horizon has a plan for that.

The city needs to take a hard look at environmental impact. The watershed into Mooser Creek is quite large, encompassing the bulk of the greater Turkey Mountain area. Do we know what pipeline relocation, road widening and mall construction will do to the watershed? How will all that affect the YMCA? How many trails are going to be lost due to the mall and to road widening? How badly is wildlife going to be squeezed? And lastly, with all these serious questions out there, is it really worth it to move forward?

I know INCOG’s blueprint is not law or anything like that. But it’s a wise plan, one that takes into consideration that some things are worth more than the short-term gains of increased sales tax dollars and low-wage retail jobs.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But  we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

What we gain from keeping Turkey Mountain wild is immense. Wildlife keeps its habitat. People win from having a wild place in which they can go, get healthy and be out of an urban environment. And preserving the area not only puts a stamp on positive community values, it also gives us an opportunity to teach children the value nature offers.

For city planners and the City Council, I’d ask that they remember these points before rubber-stamping Simon’s project.

As for those of us in Tulsa, it’s time for a little action. There is a petition you can sign where you can show support in keeping Turkey Mountain wild. You can write and call your City Council representative to let them know what you’re not keen on an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. And if you’re on social media, post your photos and opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag it with #KeepTurkeyWild.

Time to get crackin’, folks. Be heard.

Bob Doucette